An Indonesia cave painting, discovered two years ago on the island of Sulawesi, could be the world's oldest figurative artwork. Dating back nearly 44,000 years, the painting suggests an advanced artistic culture.
The 4.5-meter wide painting depicts a prehistoric hunting scene, which features wild animals being chased by hunters wielding what appear to be spears and ropes.
Using dating technology, the team at Australia's Griffith University determined the limestone cave painting to be at least 43,900 years. If correct, that means it was created by Stone Age people sometime during the Upper Paleolithic period.
"This hunting scene is – to our knowledge – currently the oldest pictorial record of storytelling and the earliest figurative artwork in the world," researchers said.
How They Date It
There are at least 242 caves or shelters with ancient imagery on Sulawesi alone. Another cave painting recently discovered on the Indonesian island of Borneo was determined to be at least 40,000 years old.
The approximate age of these paintings is determined by analyzing the popcorn-like calcite covering that builds up over time. Radioactive uranium in the mineral slowly decays into thorium. Since the rate of decay is measurable, investigators can determine the approximate age of these cave paintings by measuring the amount of thorium that is covering them. For example, they found that the calcite on a pig in one of the paintings began forming at least 43,900 years ago, while the deposits on two buffaloes suggested they were at least 40,900 years old.
The drawings were found in a cave called Leang Bulu'Sipong 4, in the southern part of Sulawesi. Typically, the subject matter of Paleolithic Art is concerned either with food gathering (in this case, hunting) or fertility. This particular painting is almost five metres wide, and appears to show a type of buffalo called an anoa, as well as some wild pigs, such as those found on Sulawesi. The hunters are painted in a dark red color. Curiously, alongside them are smaller figures that look human - but display animal features, such as tails and snouts. Also shown are the heads of other animals, including birds and reptiles." may be regarded not only as the earliest dated figurative art in the world but also as the oldest evidence for the communication of a narrative in Palaeolithic art," researchers said.
"This is noteworthy, given that the ability to invent fictional stories may have been the last and most crucial stage in the evolutionary history of human language and the development of modern patterns of cognition."
Although in poor condition, This discovery suggests that a highly advanced artistic culture, one that had developed a system of folklore, religious myths, and spiritual beliefs, existed some 44,000 years ago.
I am constantly reminded of the fact that art is not just a picture on a wall, but that art is history. It's a sobering, and inspiring, thought!